of a caboose comes right at him. He yelps and wakes with a jolt, rain tapping the windowpane, a car revving its engine in the road outside the house.
The luminous dial on the clock reads 2:00 A.M. He pulls the blankets over his head. Rev, rev, rev. Grind, grind, grind. No doubt some idiot heading home from the bar has bottomed out in the ditch. Pumpkin climbs on his pillow and begins grooming. Scratch, chew, rev, grind. For heaven’s sake, can’t a decent person get any rest around here?
Grumbling under his breath he shoves his bare feet into rubber boots and slips a raincoat over his pajamas. As he picks up his flashlight and heads for the stairs, Pumpkin curls into a fluffy knot on his pillow. He grabs his fishing hat on the way out the door and squishes through the wet grass. He walks across the narrow, unpaved lane and jerks the car door open.
“For god’s sake, turn the engine off before you strip the gears.” Between his frustration with Cookie and having his sleep disrupted, he’s in an uncharacteristically ornery mood. An unseen hand switches off the engine. “Now, turn off the lights or you’ll drain the battery.” The lights go off. “What’s wrong with you? Are you an imbecile?”
“No Senor.” A shapely leg in a high heeled shoe emerges from the car. A shapely body follows the shapely leg. The young lady’s not very tall, but she has more treacherous curves than the rollercoaster on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Her curly black hair is stacked high on her head, her earrings glittering like chandeliers from a fancy hotel. She straightens her dress, a racy pink number, snug at the waist and hips, then flaring to the knee in a series of flouncy ruffles. “I am so sorry to bother you, Senor. I am an excellent driver, but these little foreign cars have a mind of their own, no?”
“No…I mean…yes, yes of course.” Instead of chewing her out he’s telling her it’s no trouble, no trouble at all, that foreign cars are certainly more stubborn than domestic models.
“I am Chita Montoya.” To his surprise, she’s alert and quite sober.
“Joe Crisalli,” he says.
“Please to meet you, Cho.”
He bends over and sees a guitar, a pair of silver candlesticks, a gun case and a jewelry box in the back seat.
“What’s all this stuff?” he says.
“I’m just move today to Santa Paulina and I’m no so sure where I got off track. I think maybe map upside down. I’ve come teach at Top Hat School of Dance. Is famous. You’ve heard of it, no?”
“I’m afraid not. I go to the senior dances at the church with…you know… the single dances.” He was about to say, with Cookie, but some invisible force stopped him.
“Single dances? I can no believe a handsome man like you is no married.”
“I was for many years, but she passed away,” he says.
“Can I use your phone to call a cab? I can have a tow truck out here in the morning.”
One tire hangs over the ditch and Joe could easily pull her car onto the road with his pickup, but… “All right, come inside before the rain ruins your dress”
“You are muy simpatico, Senor.” She grabs her purse and trots after him to the house.
Three cups of hot chocolate later and they’re still waiting for the cab. Chita is pleasant company, vivacious and talkative, but Joe is running out of small talk. There’s only so much one can say about baking bread and frosting cupcakes.
“You have a lovely house,” she says. “Is muy bonita.”
“Would you like the guided tour?” He hadn’t planned to show her the house but she’d somehow weaseled it out of him.
“Oh, si. Someday I will have a house of my own, but first I must work very hard.” Walking past the fireplace in the living room, Chita sees a blue and white Chinese urn on the mantelpiece.
“A ginger jar, no?”
“My wife’s ashes. I would have scattered them, but the time was never right.”
“When did she pass, Cho?”
“Six or seven years back. It’s been
The Honor of a Highlander